Ride-share can't have a free ride

By Jim Conigliaro Jr., Commentary | Albany Times Union

Ride-sharing companies are back making big promises in New York state. In all the fervor upstate, the challenges in communities where ride-sharing already exists are being forgotten. In New York City, where I advocate for Uber drivers, ride-sharing companies have operated for years, shifting risk and burden on to the workers and taxpayers. While upstaters and visitors bemoan the lack of ride-sharing, being a “late-mover” gives our state a critical advantage.

As we debate legalizing the ride-sharing industry, legislators have a unique opportunity to ensure ride-sharing “jobs” meet basic standards. New York will never have more leverage with ride-sharing companies than it has right now. Legislators must not let Uber push through a rush deal to operate without oversight while New Yorkers pay the price. Upstate has waited this long, lawmakers should take a few more weeks to get this right. This is the perfect time for New York to chart a more responsible and sustainable path for ride-sharing and serve as a global model.

Ride-sharing drivers are deemed contractors and denied the job protections and benefits many Americans take for granted. Forget retirement accounts and dental — drivers don’t get sick days and many lack health insurance. Much like Walmart, ride-sharing companies are transferring labor costs and risk to workers and taxpayers. Taxpayers should never be forced to subsidize wealthy international corporations.

We must get these companies to pay their fair share. Establishing a benefits fund for workers and requiring the companies to fund it is one way to do that. By the same token, New York must require that ride-sharing companies contribute to the state’s Black Car Fund for upstate drivers, just as they do for drivers in New York City. This fund covers workers compensation insurance for work-related injuries as well as safety training.

Independent contractors are also precluded from being members of a labor union. But that doesn’t mean these workers can’t have a voice.

When New York City drivers stood together and demanded change alongside the Machinists Union, they created the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) which represents over 45,000 Uber drivers. IDG members won the strongest termination appeals process in the nation, a modest raise to the minimum rate per trip, and faster response times for contacting the company. Now New York City drivers are the only workers in America who meet with Uber management regularly to raise important workplace issues. New York must not legalize ride-sharing without upstate drivers having a voice in the workplace.

State lawmakers should also establish a ride-sharing oversight board to monitor earnings rules, enforcement and working conditions of the ride-sharing industry. A central board whose members are balanced between the interests of labor, companies and the public could collect unbiased data to regulate the industry while maintaining the flexibility that would be difficult to achieve in the Legislature.

Finally, New York must level the playing field for ride-sharing passengers by eliminating the nearly 9 percent state sales tax on each fare. Companies use this tax to unfairly cut into the drivers’ share. Taxi and livery passengers are exempt from this sales tax; ride-sharing should be, too.

If Uber and Lyft want to operate upstate on the promise of job creation, let’s make sure those jobs have basic protections. New Yorkers and our labor unions have a sacred history of protecting the working class, and as the job landscape shifts we must act to ensure that no worker is left without a voice. New York must seize this unique opportunity and set the precedent for a more responsible ride-sharing industry.

Jim Conigliaro Jr. of Brooklyn is the founder of the Independent Drivers Guild and serves as general counsel and a director of the International Association of Machinists District 15.

Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/Ride-share-can-t-have-a-free-ride-10806833.php